Note: I also put out a gallery of screenshots, which you can find here. They do contain spoilers though.
When I first saw the trailer for this game at E3, and before the title of the game came up, I thought “oh boy, another Outlast.” Then, I found out it’s actually a Blair Witch game, which has no sway over me considering the fact that I have not seen the film. My thoughts on the game were pretty low going in, but then I saw the game on Game Pass and thought “why not?” Boy was I wrong. This is Blair Witch, and it’s time to stay indoors.
The year is 1996, and the location is Burkittsville, Maryland. A young boy named Peter Shannon has disappeared into the Black Hills Forest, which is known to be a cursed place where many have gone missing. You play as a former cop named Ellis, who decides to join the search for Peter. Nothing is as easy at it seems though, and Ellis soon finds himself as the one lost in the woods with only his thoughts, dog, and a cursed presence to keep him company.
I was expecting nothing but cheap jumpscares from this game, which is why I’m surprised by the story. Throughout the game, who Ellis really is begins to open up. At first, I thought he was some cardboard-cutout dumbass who falls right into every other horror game protagonist’s trope of “this is creepy, let’s keep going alone.” As the game goes on though, Ellis’ character beings to open up through dialogue and hallucinations, and his reasoning for pushing on started to make more sense. It also doesn’t take long for the story to go away from finding Peter and instead to focusing on Ellis, which I am fine with because I think trying to find a kid isn’t exactly a strong story.
In terms of the story, there are two issues I did come across. The first is a lack of knowledge around the lore. I haven’t seen any of the films, and this should be obvious considering the game is based in the Blair Witch universe, but I felt like I was missing out on something. This game goes into the basics of this universe (creepy haunted woods where people go missing), but once I was in it, I felt like the game was going deeper into the lore while I stayed on the surface level. The other issue I had with the story are the endings. There are multiple endings to this game, but this game doesn’t need multiple endings. On top of that, I don’t even know how to trigger two of the endings, and the other two endings are determined by how you treat your dog, which only changes the ending very slightly. The multiple endings feel like a tagline for the game more than anything, and I would prefer one solid ending.
There are many more story elements I want to talk about, but I feel these other elements would spoil the story. I’ll leave by saying the story was better than I thought.
Gameplay in the horror genre is usually pretty limiting. It’s like a dark ride you find at the county fair: you follow this specific track as jump scares try to scare you along the way. While Blair Witch does fall under this category as well, the game does offer some unique gameplay mechanics that does separate it from other horror games.
The most gameplay-intensive this game gets involves the supernatural beings in the woods and your camera. There are strange, tall creatures with long arms and legs hiding out in the woods, and encounters with them either involve shining a flashlight on them similar to Alan Wake, or sneaking around them without getting too close. There is also a camera you pick up early on, and there are tapes that you find throughout the game that have supernatural abilities. For example, pausing the tape right before a tree fell will make the once-fallen tree stand up again. While these supernatural mechanics are cool, I was not a fan of them because they made the game supernatural. The one thing I know about the original film is that it questions whether or not there really is a witch in the woods, and these two mechanics throw that question out a window. I also know these mechanics are real in this game and not a hallucination because both your dog as well as another character acknowledges these two things. I think it would’ve been cooler to design the game around the idea that the woods aren’t haunted and it all is just mind tricks, but at the same time I don’t know if the more recent films have a supernatural presence or not.
The area I would say people could find issue in is the lack of direction. While this game is pretty linear, there are a few large areas with no sense of direction, and going the wrong way will make a loop back to the start. While this was annoying at first, I soon realized that getting lost in the woods and not having a sense of direction is what this game is all about.
Getting lost in the woods isn’t just a frustration, though. As the game goes on, Ellis’ mind begins to slip, and the hallucinations he experiences are both interesting and fleshes out the character. I won’t get into what these hallucinations are, but I think they justify his determination and shows just how troubled he is. All of these hallucinations culminate into the last sequence, which has you traversing through a dilapidated house. The house is the coolest, most terrifying part of the game, as for it condenses all of the experiences throughout the game into one house filled with tight corridors and creepy rooms. It is the best part in the whole game, and I would say it is worth playing the whole game to get to.
Before I finish this review, there are a few other issues I do want to talk about. The biggest issue I came across are a few bugs here-and-there. It isn’t stuff that is too serious, but I do hope these issues are fixed. There were a few instances of getting stuck on the terrain, one instance of getting stuck in an animation, achievements showing up a day late, and one other instance I already talked about. Only the dog issue and the animation issue forced me to quit out to the menu and start again, but they are still annoyances that took me out of the experience. Also, despite there being only a few controls, none of them could be changed. They are inconveniences more than anything, but they certainly didn’t help my experience.
In conclusion, Blair Witch is one of my top horror games. I can see why some people may not like this game, but I think it goes beyond being a cheap movie game and delivers both unique mechanics and a surprisingly deep character. There are more things I decided not to talk about for the sake of spoilers, but Blair Witch is a welcoming and enjoyable surprise.